LEO J. DEVEAU: This Week in Nova Scotia History: April 25 – May 1

April 25, 1907 – The first Motor Vehicle Act was passed in Nova Scotia on this date, requiring the registration of vehicles (for a one-time fee of five dollars), as well as the licensing of mechanics and drivers employed as drivers, and the registration of car dealerships. It became law on April 28.

One of the first automobiles in Nova Scotia was actually a horseless gasoline carriage built in France. It belonged to William Exshaw, son-in-law of Sir Sandford Fleming. Exshaw had shipped the vehicle on the liner Allan Siberian from Liverpool, England, arriving in Halifax on September 11, 1899 (as reported in the Halifax Daily Echo). A year earlier, in April 1898, the first gasoline-powered vehicle was brought to Canada by John Moddie, who imported a Winton automobile to Hamilton, Ontario. By 1904 there were fifteen known cars in Nova Scotia and growing. The first license plate was issued to William Black, of Wolfville, believed to be an Oldsmobile Touring Car. Initially registered vehicles were required to drive on the left (British style) side of a road. In 1923 this was changed to the right side.

Drive to the right on Nova Scotia roads. Amherst Daily News, Monday, April 16, 1923.

Initially, gasoline-powered vehicles were called “devil’s carts”, and not everyone was happy with their appearance on the roads. The New Glasgow Eastern Chronicle reported that “New Glasgow over the past week has had another of the ‘devil’s carts’. Others will eventually follow. It is a free country – within certain limits. However, we are fairly certain that in addition to the danger and injury inflicted, these “devil’s carts” will cause the merchants of the city to lose thousands of trade dollars, because the people of the countryside do not risk, and rightly, their life, coming or going. town, encountering one of these machines. Our roads are so narrow that it is rare for the tow cars to pass only at a walk…”

(Sources: “…automobiles and iPods”, by Tom Sheppard. The Queens County Advance, June 15, 2010. Vol. 131, No.15. And the Eastern Chronicle, 25 Jun3, 1907, p.4.)

April 26, 1918 – As World War I raged, the Nova Scotia Franchise Act received Royal Assent in Nova Scotia on that date, granting women the right to vote in provincial elections, the first province to do so in Atlantic Canada (this did not include Aboriginal women or Asian persons).

The women’s suffrage movement had begun in Canada in Ontario as early as the 1870s. led by women such as author Anna Leonowens and researcher Eliza Ritchie.

In 1910, the National Council of Women of Canada supported women’s suffrage. In 1914, it was seen as both a progressive and conservative cause that also supported the cause of poorly paid and unprotected working women. In 1916, Manitoba women became the first in Canada to win both the right to vote and to hold provincial office. This was followed later by Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1916, where women like Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and Alice Jamieson did the heavy lifting.

A month after Nova Scotia gave women the right to vote, the federal government, under Premier Robert Borden, passed a nationwide law allowing women to vote.

But it wasn’t until 1953 that Nova Scotia enacted employment equity laws and in 1956 when Nova Scotia enacted equal pay legislation. In 1960, First Nations people could vote federally without losing their Indian status. The Human Rights Act was enacted in 1962.

WWI troops returning to Halifax from Europe were greeted by temporary fur-trimmed arches welcoming them home to the old Deep Water Terminal in the North End.  Unknown photographer.  Nova Scotia Archives
WWI troops returning to Halifax from Europe were greeted by temporary fur-trimmed arches welcoming them home to the old Deep Water Terminal in the North End. Unknown photographer. Nova Scotia Archives

April 27, 1919 – In April 1919, thousands of men returned to Canada from their First World War military service on the Western Front. My grandfather, Joseph “Joe” William Deveau (1892-1969) was one such man.

Although his ancestry is rooted in Chéticamp, Nova Scotia, “Joe” was born in Prince Edward Island to his widowed mother in 1892. In December 1914, he enlisted as a private in the 6th Canadian Brigade Field Artillery, 24th Battery, 2nd Divisional Artillery, Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Fredericton, N.B. Served in France and Belgium, participating in many major battles including Vimy Ridge . He was promoted to battery quartermaster sergeant on March 18, 1918. He later returned to Halifax aboard the SS Belgic on April 23, 1919 and took the train to Prince Edward Island where he was returned to Charlottetown on April 25.

When World War I veterans like my grandfather returned to Canada, a lot had changed – women could now vote, income and corporate taxes were introduced in Canada in 1917 and the Spanish flu was unleashed (between 1918 and 1920). It would kill more than 50,000 people in Canada – almost as many Canadian servicemen and women who died in the First World War – 61,000.

April 28, 1950 – 79 men were saved from the explosion of the Acadia Coal Company’s Allan mine shaft in the Pictou coalfield near Stellarton. Coal had been identified in the Stellarton area in 1798 and in 1904 the Allan Mine was opened – named after Sir Hugh Montague Allan (1860-1951), president of the Acadia Coal Company. The mine would later be considered by many to be one of the most dangerous collieries in the world. On June 30, 1924, four men died and on April 16, 1935, seven men died at the mine.

“In Loving Memory”, listing the 88 men who died on January 23, 1918.

During the First and Second World Wars, coal was of great strategic importance. On December 20, 1914, two men died in the Allan mine. But the most tragic accident was January 23, 1918 when 88 men perished (97 men were in the mine at the time of the explosion.).

After a lifespan of 47 years and eight explosions, the mine was sealed in 1951. By then, the mine had produced over 5,493,831 tons of coal.

(Source: Not Your Grandfather’s Mining Industry. Accessed online: https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/allan-mine. Image: ‘In Loving Memory’, listing the 88 men who died on January 23, 1918).

April 29, 1864 – The Free Schools Act was passed by the provincial Conservative government of Nova Scotia under (Sir) Charles Tupper. It was the first law of its kind in Canada to establish a public education system and assessment process for children to achieve literacy levels. Acadia College graduate and educator, Theodore Harding Rand (30 at the time) was appointed the province’s first superintendent of education to oversee the creation of the province’s public education system.

Theodore Harding Rand (1835-1900).  Unknown photographer.  Public domain
Theodore Harding Rand (1835-1900). Unknown photographer. Public domain

Initially, “free education” met with some resistance, especially in rural areas – not that children had to be educated, but rather that people would be legally compelled, through direct taxation , to pay for the education of other people’s children. Nevertheless, between 1864 and 1868 school attendance in Nova Scotia doubled, and by 1869 over 760 schools had been built under the Education Act.

April 30, 1819 – During the performance of the satirical burlesque play The Tailors; A Tragedy for Warm Weather, in three acts, produced by the American (Theatre) Company at the recently refurbished old warehouse at Fairbanks Wharf on the waterfront – then called the Halifax Theatre, it was reported that the crowded house of Local tailors and their apprentices weren’t amused.

They had begun to whistle and roar and swear: “A regular melee was going on between three to four dozen men who, with fists, sticks and empty bottles, fought each other fiercely. In the middle of the row, one end of the kitchen frontage was forced open and if the crowd had not moved back involuntarily, several lives could have been lost.

(Source: Boutilier, AD. Vignettes of Nova Scotia. Halifax: New World Publishing, p.28.)

SS Nerissa.  Unknown photographer, public domain
SS Nerissa. Unknown photographer, public domain

May 1, 1941 – Federal Minister of the Royal Canadian Navy (and former Premier of Nova Scotia), Angus L. Macdonald, announced in the House of Commons that the ship SS Nerissa, along with convoy HX-121, had been sunk by a U-boat as it headed from Halifax to Liverpool.

She was twelve hours from the British port. 209 people lost their lives – including 85 crew and gunners, and 124 passengers. However, it was not reported at the time that the ship had also included 84 Canadian servicemen – 73 of whom were soldiers and the rest naval personnel, who were en route to England. There were 91 survivors (including three stowaways) recovered and landed in Londonderry. It was the third highest loss of life for a ship sunk by US submarines on approach to the British Isles.

Commanded by Eric Topp, the SS Nerissa had made 39 successful crossings before being sunk. Between 1939 and 1945, in what is considered the Battle of the Atlantic, more than 36,000 Allied sailors, soldiers and airmen and 36,000 other merchant seamen lost their lives, including 2,000 members of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1 600 Canadian merchant seamen and 752 Canadian airmen. Around 30,000 German sailors had also lost their lives.

(Leo J. Deveau is an independent librarian, researcher, speaker and author of 400 Years in 365 Days – A Day by Day Calendar of Nova Scotia History. His most recent book is Fideliter The Regimental History of The Princess Louise Fusiliers. It may be reached at [email protected]).

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